Despite the high fun factor and solid production values, I have to admit that recent LEGO entries have felt more like the same ol’ same ol’. Therefore, it was with some minor trepidation that I started LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes , which – on the surface, at least – appeared to be nothing more than a cash-in moneymaker. Oh, but it’s much more than that. Say hello to the biggest and quite possibly most fulfilling and addictive LEGO adventure ever.
The graphics haven’t changed much, though. We still get a nicely detailed world with smooth animations and plenty of environmental variety, but there isn’t anything particularly mind-blowing about the overall technical presentation. That being said, this remains a stable and effective set of visuals, which are almost guaranteed to satisfy the target audience. They’re not painfully sharp or meticulously detailed, but everything from the vehicles to the minor special effects are all very well captured and displayed. Nothin’ wrong with that.
We find the first major upgrade in the sound category: For the very first time in this franchise’s long history, the characters actually talk. Up until now, they only grunted or moaned or sighed; anything but actual words, really. But now, we’ve got a full voice cast, which allows characters like The Joker and Batman to fully come to life; the voiceover performances are really great throughout, too. The special effects fall into the same category as the graphics (i.e., been there, done that), but the audio in general is borderline excellent. …still, in a strange way, I kinda miss the silent characters..they had a quiet charm, you know?
The best way to describe LEGO Batman 2 is as follows: It’s bigger and better than the previous entry and in fact, most every LEGO installment to date. If that’s enough to convince you, just stop reading and put the game on your “must buy” list. But of course, this is supposed to be a review, so I suppose I have to continue for the sake of all those who require elaboration to satisfy their curiosity. Traveller’s Tales does a great job of fixing a few of the lingering issues and giving the player a massive amount of bang for their buck. There's just so much to find and do.
The story is better, even if that’s a secondary feature in these titles. Lex Luthor is running for president and he has teamed up with The Joker, who is using kryptonite to nefariously gain votes. Obviously, such a big issue is beyond even the prodigious capabilities of Batman and Robin; hence, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Green Lantern, and every other member of the vaunted DC Comics Justice League must spring into action. This means we get to sample a large variety of gameplay skills and abilities, and most all of them work beautifully.
As you might expect, the actual control remains simple and streamlined. You jump with the X button, attack with the Square button, build fallen LEGO pieces with Circle, and switch between characters with Triangle. But to spice things up a little, there are variations of these controls; for instance, you hold the Square button down with Batman or Robin so you can target enemies with the Batarang. Also, holding the Circle button will allow a superhero to take advantage of a special power, such as the Acrobat Ball Robin has at his disposal.
The latter is only available if Robin is wearing his Acrobat Suit, which leads me to another cool addition: Characters can don different suits that grant different skills. The only downside is that you can’t do this on the fly; you have to be given the opportunity to change at certain places during a chapter. Being able to switch between all available suits with a trigger button or something might’ve been a nice touch, but could’ve proven a bit too complex for younger players. And let’s not forget, the young’uns are the desired demographic so you really can’t lose them by getting too fancy.
There are 15 chapters in all and while this won’t take much more than 10 hours, that’s really only scratching the surface. There’s always a reason to go back and collect studs, which has long since been the franchise’s currency, and collectibles, unlockable characters, and mini-kit parts are begging to be found. The attraction is all the more potent because, in another first for the series, we’re greeted with big, wide open world to explore. It’s not quite as free and open as GTA but it’s definitely a big change from the standard central hub setup from previous efforts.
Gotham City is the location and it’s full of recognizable places like Arkham Asylum and Ace Chemicals. All sorts of goodies are waiting to be found, including those elusive Golden Bricks. There are 250 in all and some are extremely well hidden; a few even require that you utilize one character’s special ability, so if you can’t get it now, come back later after unlocking some new heroes. Bosses can also be added to the playable roster, which has no less than 50 openings, and you won’t get all 50 in 10 hours. Trust me on that. This one requires some extra couch time.
It isn’t perfect, as there are a few camera issues and some of the special abilities can be a little awkward to execute. Exploring Gotham City, while always fun, can be a tad frustrating at times, because pinpointing your distant target is too much of a challenge. The map will help but you can tell that Traveller’s isn’t completely checked out on the open-world format; it just doesn’t feel as solid or as streamlined as the rest of the game. Still, in no way am I saying the sandbox approach was a bad idea. It was a great idea so don’t misunderstand.
LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is a step in the right direction for a series that was flirting with stagnation. With 50 available characters, a slew of corresponding skills and abilities, an open world that encourages exploration and discovery, a halfway decent story, and rock solid control, this one is quite the package. The camera can still be iffy, the execution of certain hero skills leaves something to be desired, and some of the puzzles are a little goofy, but beyond that… Bottom line is if you’ve enjoyed the LEGO games up to this point, you’re gonna live the latest.
The Good: Biggest, deepest LEGO game yet. Great voice performances. Reliable control. Tons of content. Not a bad storyline. A lot of cool gameplay skills and abilities. Co-op has never been more fun.
The Bad: Graphics aren’t overwhelming. Camera still isn’t perfect. Minor open-world eccentricities. A few obscure puzzles.
The Ugly: “In the world of LEGO, the word ‘ugly’ is banned.”